Labor Day can signify many things. One of which is the end of summer, and the beginning of cooler weather, warm woolies, comforting and soul hugging soups, and steamy mugs of tea or hot cocoa. Its also the beginning of cold and flu season.
The timing of flu is unpredictable and can vary from season to season. Seasonal flu activity can begin as early as October and continue to occur as late as May. Flu activity most commonly peaks in the United States in January or February.
Vaccines are especially important for adults over the age of 65, as immunity to certain diseases like the flu and pneumonia can wane as you age, which increases the likelihood of contracting the illness. For seniors this can quickly become life-threatening, and it’s even more dangerous if you already suffer from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) or asthma. In recent years, it’s estimated that 80-90% of seasonal flu-related deaths have occurred in people 65 years and older, and 50-70% of seasonal flu-related hospitalizations have occurred among that same age group, so it’s important to stay vigilant.
The best way to prevent the seasonal flu and flu-related complications is to get vaccinated every year, adults 65 and older have two flu shots available to choose from. A regular dose flu vaccine and a newer flu vaccine designed specifically for seniors with a higher dose. (The nasal spray vaccine is not for use in people over 49 years old.) This high dose vaccine contains 4 times the amount of antigen as the regular flu shot, and is associated with a stronger immune response following vaccination. This indicates greater protection against flu disease.
Other important vaccines for older adults:
Pneumococcal vaccine – This vaccine protects against the pneumococcal disease, which causes pneumonia. The CDC notes that the risk of death due to this disease is greatest among older adults and recommends all adults 65 and older get this vaccine unless directed otherwise by a doctor.
Tdap vaccine – This combination vaccine protects against diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis (whooping cough). Unlike the DTaP vaccine given to young children, the Tdap vaccine contains reduced doses of diphtheria and pertussis. Adults who have not received this vaccine since childhood should get another dose. Adults should also get a tetanus-diphtheria (Td) booster every 10 years according to the CDC.
Zoster vaccine – Herpes zoster, more commonly known as shingles, is caused by the varicella-zoster virus, the same virus that causes chickenpox. Shingles erupts as a rash or blisters on the skin and can be extremely painful. About 1 million Americans get shingles every year, and about 50% are 60 or older. It’s recommended that adults in this age bracket get one dose of the zoster vaccine.
So snuggle up in your cozy clothes, bask in the warm amber glow of the fire, and stay healthy and thriving by keeping up to date on the necessary vaccinations that help ward off the diseases that seniors are particularly susceptible to.